Uganda peace talks to restart despite death of senior rebel leader

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The Independent Online

Uganda's civil war, which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands and displaced nearly two million people, could be nearing its end.

Peace talks between the government and the rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), are to restart today, and diplomats believe a long-term solution could be found within a month.

The LRA, led by Joseph Kony - who believes Uganda should be governed according to the Biblical Ten Commandments and claims to be guided by spirits - has waged a 20-year war against the Ugandan government. Thousands of children have been abducted and forced to fight alongside Kony's troops.

Peace talks began last month in Juba in southern Sudan, under the mediation of south Sudan's vice-president, Riek Machar. Although originally sceptical, Western diplomats and regional observers now believe the talks are the best chance yet to end the war.

A diplomat close to the negotiations said: "Kony does not want a military position or a seat in government. He just wants to go home. He's been living in the bush for 20 years."

A leading member of the LRA, Raska Lukwiya, was killed by Ugandan government troops at the weekend. Lukwiya was one of five LRA leaders indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on more than 30 charges, including crimes against humanity. Despite Lukwiya's death, the LRA said it would continue with the talks.

The Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, announced an amnesty for the LRA leadership last month, and attacked the ICC and the United Nations for not doing enough to capture them. But Uganda is yet to formally request the ICC revoke the arrest warrants.

If the talks are successful, the Ugandan government will hope to persuade the ICC and the international community that there is no need to pursue Kony and his colleagues.

Progress in the peace talks was initially slow. The LRA's delegation to Juba did not include any other senior leaders. It is understood that Kony and his deputy, Vincent Otti, were concerned they would be arrested by UN troops in south Sudan. Instead, the LRA sent a team including teachers and doctors from the Ugandan diaspora. In an attempt to kickstart the talks, Mr Machar took a delegation including Kony's mother and some of his wives to the LRA's camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The LRA initially refused to restart talks until the Ugandan government agreed to a truce. President Museveni refused, but the rebels announced a ceasefire of their own and said they would go ahead with talks.

The humanitarian situation in northern Uganda is dire. Nearly two million people are living in refugee camps and many have not seen their homes for almost 20 years. In the Pader district, near the border with south Sudan, about 450,000 people - more than 90 per cent of the local population - live in camps. Most are reliant on food aid from the World Food Programme. The British Government recently cut £20m from the annual aid budget and gave it direct to aid agencies.

20-year war

1987 Lord's Resistance Army begins rebellion

1991 'Operation North' launched to quash LRA; rebels respond with more killing

1994 LRA ignores Uganda's deadline to disband, sets up in Sudan and starts abduction of children

1995-96 Millions displaced as war intensifies

2002 Army evacuates more than 400,000 civilians

2004 LRA rebels kill 200 people at camp in the north; first talks held

2005 Arrest warrants issued for five LRA leaders

2006 Peace talks begin